Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Canada's Legacy of Abuse

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Editorial Exchange: Canada's Legacy of Abuse

Article excerpt

Editorial Exchange: Canada's legacy of abuse

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An editorial from the Winnipeg Free Press, published July 19:

The most startling thing about a historian's report on nutritional experiments on aboriginal children 70 years ago is that, except for the details, it is not very surprising at all.

The idea that native peoples were once regarded as lower beings with no basic rights who couldn't hire a lawyer, vote, or leave their reserve without permission, who were relocated and dislocated by government diktat, ignored, dismissed as children, starved, robbed of their land and even their children, who were physically and sexually abused -- the list goes on -- is not new.

Canada was a racial society, and even today some Canadians still view Indians as victims of their own laziness, lack of ambition and child-like helplessness, which bigots regard as hereditary traits.

The abuse fits into a historical context, which needs to be understood, but it does not wipe the slate clean or absolve Canada and Canadians of their responsibilities to a people who have been repeatedly victimized.

The nutritional experts who conducted experiments on starving aboriginal populations, for example, said they believed their work would help lift them out of poverty and into the modern era, much the way the creators of residential schools believed their work would have the same effect.

The problem is they neglected to raise the alarm bell about the malnutrition they witnessed all around them.

The science of nutrition was still in its infancy. What harm could there be in providing vitamins and supplements to some aboriginals to see if it would improve their health? Or so the experts may have claimed.

Some 60 per cent of Canadians, in fact, were malnourished in the 1930s and 1940s, the Canadian Council of Nutrition said at the time, so the need for research was considered critical.

Notions of informed consent did not exist and the experiments were hardly as bad as the forced sterilizations, lobotomies and other medical abuses of the day committed against women, the disabled and mentally challenged, many of whom, by the way, happened to be aboriginal. …

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